Saturday, August 9, 2008

What Olympic sports really should go? My list.

HubBlog often has some good stuff, but this recent post on cutting the "fat" off the Olympics has me curious. Read it over there, or take a gander at this excerpt:

One of the problems of the modern Olympics, in my opinion, is the proliferation of official sports and de-emphasis of track and field, the heart and soul of the games. So as a public service, here is Hub Blog's list of sports that would be eliminated if the IOC had the common sense to implement my recommendations:

Synchronized swimming
Mountain biking
Field hockey
Table tennis
Beach volleyball

Well, we can begin with the fact that baseball and softball won't be back for a while after having been eliminated post-Beijing. For good reason, too: outside of North America, the Caribbean, Japan, and a couple South American countries, those two are simply not world sports. Also, "track and field" within the Olympics is better called "athletics".

Finally, let's remember that sports are in the Olympics if they are popular in several countries...even if none of them are in the United States. Remember, we're looking to include sports that are popular all over the world, not just the US. Badminton is a passionately followed sport in Southeast Asia, and probably is played by more people than the discus. Field hockey is similarly a passion in India and Central Asia. Team handball is huge in Europe. Tennis is one of the few world sports, with major events in several continents, and top competitors from several countries. Judo, also huge in many countries.

From a structural point of view, there's not much "fat" in badminton, table tennis, judo, or taekwondo. Such events require little room, and can be held in a glorified convention center. Compare this to, say, cycling, which requires a velodrome...something not horribly useful for anything else.

As for BMX and mountain biking, it's part of the youth friendly strategy to include newer sports. I'm not sure how well that will work, but I'm willing to give such low-facility demands at least two Olympiads.

As for soccer, I can kind of agree in that many top stars do not compete in the Olympic event. As long as the best of the world isn't interested, I could be convinced to cut it. However, most host countries have ample soccer facilities, and there may be something to be said for holding events that are accessible to many due to large-capacity stadiums that are even spread all over the country -- Olympic soccer is being held in several cities in China.

Trampoline and sync well as rhythmic gymnastics do look stupid. Is that enough to condemn them? Don't know.

Looking at the official summer sport list, here are a few I could be happy to see disappear.

Item one: sailing. Sailing? A multimillion-dollar endeavor that is reserved for the idle rich in any case. I really don't understand how the symbol of idle richesse still belongs in the Olympics. I say cut it.

Item two: equestrian. More snob appeal...what does it take to train, raise, then move a horse to a foreign country? Resources many countries don't have, to enter a sport that is mainly accessible to the upper crust. I can't find a source for this, but I had thought that in many cases the horse and rider were paired randomly. In any case, the event is scored in an arbitrary way by judges, which doesn't always thrill me. Not to mention the fact that the horses are the real athletes in this event...unless the horses get to go on the podium, ax it.

Sad to say, that includes the only two sports were men and women compete in the same event. On one hand, I like the equality in that approach, but on the other, I think it raises fair questions about the control the human has over the results if restrictions on intersex competition are removed for these events?

Moving on...

Item three: boxing. Ugh. Three judges of dubious origin keep track of punches thrown according to strange rules, in a format that never attracts boxers in their prime. Just like professional boxing, Olympic boxing is stained with controversy and suspicion. Check this list out. At least it has some chops as an ancient sport of tradition, unlike...

Item four: shooting. The steady hand event. I can't imagine anything more un-Olympic than a machine-based event that uses explosives and a device designed to hurt or kill.

Anyway, what's on your list?

PS: Odd sports in the past have included distance underwater swimming, cricket, golf, rugby, the tug-of-war, croquet, and roque (an American version of croquet). So weird sports have a history in the games. I would say as an aside, though, that if I could add any sport to the Games, it would be rugby, an astounding sport with popularity in Europe, southern Africa, North America, and the South Pacific.


Anonymous said...

Indeed the mix of sports in the Olympics is not ideal.

Synchronized swimming while beautiful to watch is hardly a sport other than it requires a great deal of physical conditioning to hold yourself in the water like that. Same goes for rhythmic gymnastics.

Rugby is probably the most glaring omission. Some have argued for golf and bowling. These are hardly "athletic" sports and golf requires a venue that requires modifying and maintaining an entire landscape. Though I suppose any city capable of hosting these games would have golf courses by now.

One gridiron-smitten American (I presume) wondered why American football is not included. Other than it's really only played in the USA and therefore doesn't meet IOC international criteria, it's too violent and requires extraordinary preparation and a large number of personnel just to play one game(They couldn't play more than a handful of games involving only a few teams in the 17 day span of the Olympics.)

Ryan Adams said...

Baseball and softball shouldn't be gone. There's a helluva lot more players that play competitive than that funny game with brooms on ice, or speed walking, etc. etc. etc.

The fact that baseball is competitive at the Olympic level - and promises to only become more so in the future - proves my point. I'm of the belief that the Olympics should be as inclusive as possible; it doesn't have to be a sport that every country plays... it could even be a regional sport, so long as there's a number of countries that could be competitive.

We don't all have to like the sports that are played at the Olympics. Our individual amusement isn't really why we have the games. It's for friendly competition among athletes and the countries they come from.

Quriltai said...

It's not just number of people, but also range. Curling is hot in most of the far northern hemisphere -- Scandinavia, Russia, Nordic Europe, not to mention Canada and the American Midwest. It has a wider range than baseball, I'd wager.

As for "inclusiveness", I think that's a great goal, but we're at the point now that only about 100 cities worldwide really have the resources and infrastructure to host the Olympics, and every sport added -- particularly one that requires dedicated facilities like baseball and unlike curling -- narrows that list a little more.